For a gallery of unique boats, check out: The Most Unique Boats of All-Time.
On my way to the office today I passed a silver-painted woman who makes her living as a street statue, a man tap-dancing, and a shop that sells freeze-dried mice and lollipops with bugs inside. And that was all before my morning cup of joe.
It’s just another day here in America the Beautiful, the home of the brave and the bizarrely strange. Our land of opportunity boasts the truly eccentric: a man with bees for a beard, a hotel that’s underwater, and the ever-popular Testicle Festival. Best of all? So many of these American oddities are accessible by boat. So quit whining that you have nowhere to go this summer. Hop aboard and celebrate weird waterside America. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Jell-O Museum 23 E. Main St., Le Roy, NY 585/768-7433, www.jellomuseum.com Cruise Lake Ontario and, after docking at Sleepy Hollow Marina in Hamlin, head to the only museum paying homage to America’s favorite dessert (13 boxes are sold every second). The museum features Jell-O boxes, posters, and funky molds. The museum even houses the world’s only Gelometer, a device that measures the jiggliness of Jell-O. Bill Cosby must be so proud.
King Tut’s Grill 40132 Martin Mill Pike, Knoxville, TN 865/573-6021 With a capacity of only 38, this tiny Middle Eastern restaurant located in the living room of a house invites its customers, who rave about the Greek salad and baklava, to join conga lines, sing, perform magic tricks, and even pick up toy musical instruments for an impromptu jam session. Drinks are served in flower vases. Dock at Volunteer Landing Marina on the Tennessee River.
Jumbo the Elephant’s Remains Tufts University, Medford, MA 617/628-5000, www.tufts.edu Jumbo gained fame as the “largest elephant on earth” in the late 1800s, but unfortunately he was run over by a freight train. Ever the showman, his owner, P.T. Barnum, had Jumbo stuffed and put on display at Tufts University, where it became the school mascot. Tragedy struck a second time when a fire destroyed the poor pachyderm. Afterward an administrator loaded Jumbo’s ashes into a peanut butter jar and there he remains for college athletes to rub for good luck before games. Dock at Boston Yacht Haven in Boston Harbor.
Future Birthplace of Captain Kirk Riverside, IA 319/648-5475, www.trekfest.com Pull into Coralville Lake Marina and hitch a ride into Riverside, the place where-far in the future-Mrs. Kirk will give birth to the USS Enterprise’s captain. Resident trekker Steve Miller knew that Kirk hailed from a town in Iowa and proposed that Riverside be named the place and celebrate with an annual Trek Fest. The town’s motto was subsequently changed from “Where the Best Begins” to “Where the Trek Begins.”
Bee Beard Man Thistledew Farm, Proctor, WV 800/854-6639, www.thistledewfarm.com Stop by the Shadyside Marina on the Ohio River and head to the Thistledew farm for its famous honey and a visit with clean-shaven owner Steve Conlon. Ask nicely and he’ll put a queen bee in a tiny box on his chin and wait for her hive mates to form a massive bee beard. Conlon was once stung more than 50 times while demonstrating his “talent” on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. Big Blue Bug 161 O’Connell St., Providence, RI 888/258-3284, www.bigbluebug.com Crowning the top of the New England Pest Control Building is a 58′-by-9′ termite. At almost 1,000 times the size of the real thing, the Providence landmark-affectionately named Nibbles Woodaway-is decorated with hats and props to celebrate holidays and events. Tie up at one of Providence’s many docks, including the Downtown Marina.
National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame 10360 Hall of Fame Dr., Hayward, WI 715/634-4440, www.freshwater-fishing.org The fiberglass muskie is half a block long and four stories tall, enough to lure in any angler. Enter the open mouth and find yourself on an observation deck, surrounded by more than 5,000 lures, rods, reels, outboard motors, hooks, and of course, fish. Head outside for a photo op that will fool onlookers into believing you reeled in a big one. Dock at Round Lake Marina.
Jules’ Undersea Lodge 51 Shoreland Dr., Key Largo, FL 305/451-2353, www.jul.com Hop off your boat and right into the water to stay for the night. This hotel, built in a 30′-deep lagoon, shares its space with an underwater research facility. Certified scuba divers will love the continuous air supply that lets you spend as long as you want in this underwater retreat. A mer-chef even dives down and serves a gourmet dinner, or you can catch your own. Dock at Key Largo’s Emerald Lagoon.
Stark’s Vacuum Cleaner Museum 107 NE Grand Ave., Portland, OR 800/230-4101, www.starks.com Tie up at Portland’s Riverplace Marina and head to a museum that spans 100 years of vacuuming history. Models ranging from the original hand-pumped version to the more modern super-sucking Hoovers are on display, as is the story of night janitor James Spangler, the inventor of the original vacuum cleaner.
John Milkovisch’s Beer-Can House 222 Malone St., Houston, TX 713/926-6368, www.orangeshow.org And you thought you drank a lot of beer. Starting in 1968, the late John Milkovisch began to decorate the exterior of his house with beer cans, working at a rate of more than a six-pack a day for 18 years. Pull-tab garlands adorn the windows, the fencing uses whole cans, and the aluminum siding is made from flattened cans. Fortunately for John’s wife, the interior of the house remained can-free. Ripley’s Believe It or Not estimates that John drank more than 50,000 cans of beer while redecorating. Tie up on South Houston’s Trinity Bay.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS
Lobster Calling Redondo Beach, CA 310/376-6911, www.lobsterfestival.com Every September boaters tie up at the Redondo Beach Marina and throw their pride overboard at the annual Lobster Festival. They chant, rant, and rave as they call in the lobsters, just like fisherman did many years ago at the start of season. If you don’t feel like embarrassing yourself but don’t mind humbling your cruising canine, dress him up like a lobster and show him off in the Lobster-Dog Pet Parade.
Mid-Atlantic Hermit Crab Challenge Virginia Beach, VA 757/491-7866, www.beacheventsfun.com A beauty contest for hermit crabs? And you thought it couldn’t get any weirder. Each July you can dock at Rudee’s Inlet Station Marina and then glam your crab to compete in the Miss Curvaceous Crustacean Beauty Pageant. Want more? Enter your crab in the Crustacean 500, a race to see which will be the first to claw its way from an inner circle to an outer. All contestants are then put up for adoption.
National Baby Food Festival Fremont, MI 231/924-0770, www.nbff.org If your wife ever told you to stop acting like a baby, you may finally be able to shut her up. In July you can head to the home of Gerber for a baby-food-eating contest. Adults try to feed blindfolded adults the most jars of baby food in the least amount of time. Want more fun? Race tricycles, compete in diaper-changing contests, and enter Junior in a baby crawl race. Dock your boat at any number of marinas in Whitehall, which is only minutes away, and don’t forget your bib.
Giant Omelette Celebration Abbeville, LA 337/893-0013, www.giantomelette.org Dock along Vermilion Bay at Bayview Marina, loosen your belt, and get ready for a feast. Five thousand eggs, 50 pounds of onions, 52 pounds of butter, 2 gallons of parsley, 6½ gallons of milk, 3 boxes of salt, and 2 boxes of pepper all get mixed, poured, and fried in a celebration recognizing Abbeville’s French heritage. Each year, chefs from surrounding cities join together to prepare the Cajun-style omelets, which hungry spectators then get to gorge on.
Mermaid Parade Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY 718/372-5159, www.coneyislandusa.com Stop by the Marine Basin Marina and check out all the jaw-dropping, eye-popping eccentricities that Coney Island has to offer. The first Saturday after the summer solstice, mermaids, mermen, merbabies, and even merpets stroll down the boardwalk in this annual parade. Prepare to see some interesting costumes. One woman created a top out of artfully placed rubber lobsters. While you’re there, check out Coney Island’s 6′-tall bearded lady.
World Grits Festival St. George, SC 843/563-7943, www.worldgritsfestival.org Every April, 50,000 people attend this festival, which includes corn-shucking and grits-eating contests, as well as the crowning of Miss Grits. Grits enthusiasts can also participate in the Rolling-in-the-Grits Competition where they (willingly) roll for 10 seconds in a vat of grits, hoping to emerge with as many pounds of grits stuck to their body as possible. Dock in neighboring Vance at the Marker 79 Marina.
Milk Carton Derby Seattle, WA 206/728-0123, www.seafair.com While tying up at the Bell Harbor Marina in July, be sure to steer clear of the semi-seaworthy milk carton boats racing past you. Built from at least 50 half-gallon cartons, each human-powered craft races across 1,200 feet of water, many sinking in the process to the cheers of onlookers.
National Wife Carrying Championships Bethel, ME 207/824-3000 It’s not often you hear a man complaining that his wife weighs too little…until now. Dock your boat at Kezar Lake Marina and come watch a slew of husbands run 278 yards uphill, wade through a water trough, and jump over multiple obstacles, all while carrying their wives on their backs. The victor receives five times his wife’s weight in cash, plus her weight in beer! How’s that for incentive?
Twins Days Twinsburg, OH 330/425-3652, www.twinsdays.org No, you didn’t drink too much, you really are seeing double! Every August, in the world’s largest gathering of its kind, more than 3,000 sets of twins, triplets, quads, and…well, you get the idea…march in the Double Take Parade. Participants also compete in a variety of contests, ranging from the oldest and youngest set of mulitples to the closest and least look-alikes. Stay at nearby Cleveland’s Commodore’s Club Marina.
Go-Nuts Testicle Festival York, MT 406/475-9949 In May it’s time to head for Kim’s Marina & Resort on Canyon Ferry Lake. From there it’s a short trip into York, and we recommend you use the time to prepare yourself. After all, you’re going to be surrounded by testicles. Join locals as they pay homage to the bull’s no-nonsense area by marinating “rocky mountain oysters” in beer, breading them, and frying them. Then avert your eyes as some partiers paint their own with fluorescent colors. Okay, you’ve been warned. A